Rock And Roll Animals
, August 7th, 2013 11:04
When The Auteurs' debut New Wave landed in 1993, few would have predicted that twenty years later he'd release what is essentially a concept album for children involving a bunch of woodland animals. As ever with Luke Haines, though, there are plenty of twists, turns and concepts to take on board. In its own post-modern way, Rock And Roll Animals follows the lead of cartoons like The Simpsons, South Park and the hits of Jive Bunny in being ostensibly something children can enjoy while aimed as much at guffawing grown ups.
This dual demographic sees Haines expanding his horizons. Nine & A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early 80s came out in late 2011 with a large percentage of World Of Sport devotees - prurient grandmothers - dead in the ground, and his North Sea Scrolls record with Cathal Coughlan and Andrew Mueller was even more niche.
If Haines was cast as some kind of pariah looking in from the periphery, too smart and self-aware to join in with the folly of Britpop, then now, as a songwriting elder statesman, he's become like the Woody Allen of indie pop, steadfastly making good on new ideas while being almost oblivious to whether the public likes them or not. To get some perspective of scale with that comparison, if Allen has New York then Haines has his birthplace of Walton-on-Thames, a town that he's visited throughout his career, both overtly and surreptitiously.
Until now his most obvious (and some would say guileless) glimpse into Walton - 2006's Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop - sought to lampoon formerly larger-than-life characters like Jonathan King, already discredited, career finished, and hardly worthy of such retrospective derision. This time Haines stirs up bad feeling churning up the north / south divide, if only in order to have a pop at Antony Gormley's Angel of the North. Otherwise his mood is more jovial than, well, ever really. He's in playful mood and the tunes certainly don't suffer as a result.
The title track is the most immediate he's written since pretty much anything on The Auteurs' criminally underrated How I Learned To Love The Bootboys, their final disc. Julia Davis of Nighty Night fame is drafted in to narrate. Walton's Nick Lowe is a badger, Sham 69's Jimmy Pursey from nearby Hersham is cast as a fox. Gene Vincent, who as far as I know never had any affiliation with Surrey, appears as a cat.
Once you start trying to deconstruct the album for some clever and invidious underlying message or social commentary, you hopefully begin to realise that actually it's just a jolly concept album about anthropomorphic creatures named after disparate and tenuously connected figures of rock & roll history railing against a "fuck ugly bird" in Gateshead. With that established, you can start to enjoy it greatly: the recorders, the psychedelic folk, Davis' interludes... most of all you get to see a luminary of pop grumpiness enjoying himself, and you wouldn't want to stop Luke Haines having fun, now would you?